The slow, steady climb of Fall Out Boy has defied all the odds. Emerging at the peak of emo’s mid-00’s, shopping-mall-ready reinvention, they were quickly dismissed as fringe-favouring mopers for those in the throes of teenage angst. Despite a brief hiatus at the turn of the century, though, they’ve soldiered on, against all odds.
Fall Out Boy’s resilience has often found them fearlessly renovating their once straightforward pop-punk sound. As early as 2007’s ‘Infinity On High’ – a record released in the midst of the ’emo backlash’ across the globe – they were recruiting Jay-Z for guest verses, and melting genres together ’til they resembled George’s Marvellous Medicine. From then on, their focus has been on creative experimentation at every turn – last year’s ‘M A N I A’ LP was briefly shelved, after the band deemed their own moves too safe; such is their dedication to development.
Now, as they eye up arenas worldwide, and prepare to headline the main stage at Reading & Leeds Festival this summer, their evolution into the pop culture behemoth they always threatened to be is complete. We caught up with bassist and figurehead Pete Wentz, and drummer Andy Hurley, to talk Fall Out Boy’s climb to the top spot, their recent show in support of March For Our Lives, the changing face of emo and hip-hop, and what the future hold for the constantly evolving Chicago group.
You’re headlining Reading & Leeds! Presumably you’re excited? You and that festival have some history.
Pete Wentz: Yeah! We’ve co-headlined before, but we played second to last. It’s just been a cool, real build for us over the years. It just means so much more, because we’ve done some of the other slots – we’re pretty psyched.
What are your key memories? What have been your favourite moments, either on-stage or backstage?
PW: I think that backstage is just wild, when you’re like, ‘Oh man, Trent Reznor just walked by – I grew up listening to Nine Inch Nails!’ It’s super surreal. And then I once went with my buddy [DJ/producer] Dillon Francis – we went and watched a Knife Party set, they had this weird house thing built [on the stage], that was pretty cool. The thing to me that is the wildest is the like muddy, crazy kids. It’s hard to describe what it is to Americans who haven’t experienced British festivals, because it just doesn’t sound like it makes sense, but I’m like, ‘No it’s a lot of fun… but it’s pretty crazy.’
Panic! At The Disco are topping the bill as well – you’ve both been friends forever, and have followed a similar trajectory. Is it nice to both be topping the bill at the same time?
PW: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, and in some ways it’s great for the perspective, because it’s hard to see when you’re the one looking out. When you look at Panic!, I’m like ‘Oh, we’re watching that trajectory.’ Brendon [Urie, P!ATD] really started young, as a kid, and to watch him, it’s like, ‘Wow, this guy is headlining this thing…’ It feels pretty cool. It always feels better when you’ve made it with your friends.
You both you started out as rock and emo bands, and you’ve moved towards this more diverse, pop-influenced sound. What brought that on?
PW: For us, we went away for three years, and when we came back the landscape of music was utterly different. I mean like, how people listen to music – streaming was a thing, people were curating their own playlists, and it really became apparent to us that genre mattered less. The kids are like, ‘I can listen to Lil Uzi Vert and then I listen to Diplo and then I listen to Panic! At The Disco’, or whatever. For us, it’s freeing, because we were always this band that leaned in other directions, but you’re withheld a little bit by whatever you think the parameters are. But we would have Jay-Z on a record, and Lil Wayne, Elvis Costello. In order to do new music that was compelling to people, we had to reinvent ourselves. Some of the stuff is there no matter what – Patrick [Stump, frontman]’s voice is very signature to Fall Out Boy, the songs sound similar because of how he sings and the melodies he chooses – but we had to reinvent the whole thing. Honestly, when you do something like that it can go one of two ways, it can either really work or really not work, and I think we got – in some ways – lucky, or like ’right place, right time’, for it to work.
Reading & Leeds itself is much the same – it used to be this rock and metal festival and now you’ve got acts like Kendrick Lamar headlining.
PW: In my house, we live in a hip-hop world. You go to the mall, and all these kids are dressed like Travis Scott, or Kanye, or Migos – it’s so funny. Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend tweeted something like, ‘If Mick Jagger and Keith Richards started today, they’d start a squad not a band.’ I do think it’s a larger trend, but I also think that good stuff is just going to come through – you’re gonna have all kinds of different, diverse stuff, and if it’s good and it reacts with people then it’s still gonna make it through.
That emo scene you came up in has been re-evaluated, to a degree. People like Lil Peep have been accepted, and are mixing up rock, pop and hip-hop in a similar way to what you guys were trying to do 10 years ago. Do you think that the landscape now is more open to that? There was a bit of a reaction against emo back then.
PW: Totally. Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I reached out to Peep because I was like, ‘Oh wow, there’s references here, it’s so interesting’. It’s the same with like, Lil Uzi Vert, and Nothing, Nowhere, who is on my label. I think time does an interesting thing where you get far enough away from things and they look different, and you think about them differently and more clearly. When The Beatles started, they were kind of a boy band – that’s who their supporters were – and as you get further and further away, time lends… maybe not credibility, but a different perspective on things.
You’re obviously very vocal about your support of hip-hop and how exciting that is at the moment. Is that something that you still lean towards?
PW: Yeah – I think that it’s the nature of whatever your field is. Like I talk to my tennis coach and I’m like, ‘That Federer match yesterday was so crazy, and he’s like ‘I don’t watch tennis’ [laughs]. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah – why would you watch tennis?!’, because it’s what he does all day. I don’t listen to the kind of music that we play because it would be monotonous, because we do it all the time. Hip-hop was fascinating because it spoke to me. Especially how it is now – it feels like it’s a cultural movement, and that’s always kind of interesting. It feels bigger than just couple of guys doing poetry – there’s a cultural thing happening which is cool.
You recently played a show in support of March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. Is it important to you to keep that kind of political edge to things? There was a kind of backlash against Taylor Swift for having a platform and not necessarily using it – are you keen to use your platform?
PW: I think it’s up to everybody’s discretion, I don’t have any qualms about… like I think there’s room for Taylor Swift and there’s also room for Rage Against the Machine. It’s just like, the balance of the world. I think it’s important to speak up for things you believe in, especially if you have a platform, and to me, we have a lot of kids that age who come to our shows, and we’re not gonna sit there and have their back?! Like it’s teenagers that are making this stuff happen, I want to have their back. I think that’s super important.
You both come from a hardcore background, which is famed for being very political. Is that something that you think you’ve gleaned from those years – do you keep a lot of that hardcore mentality to what you do?
Andy Hurley: Yep! [laughs] I think that’s something that’s still really important to me, and was so instrumental in my growth as a person, and I still care about all that stuff and personally talk about it. I agree with Pete that bands or artists can choose their own level of involvement with raising political issues. I don’t necessarily think artists need to say something specific because I think art itself is political in its very nature – like it’s responding and reacting and dealing with things and processing things, that’s what art is. But yeah, I think hardcore made me who I am.
Is it nice, with things like [Hurley’s hardcore label] Fuck City, to be able to give back to that world a bit?
AH: Yeah, I mean all the friends that I still live with and hang out with are kids I grew up with in hardcore.
Is it still something you’re still very involved with now?
AH: Yeah, I still do side projects like hardcore bands with friends and talk about stuff that’s important to us. I’m still vegan straight edge.
If you had to pick some key bands in hardcore for those new to the genre, who would you say?
What’s next for Fall Out Boy?
PW: We’re at a point where, like, The Weeknd dropped 6 songs today, and iTunes announced that they’re maybe shutting down iTunes… we’re in a brave new world of music right now and I think, for a lot of bands, it’s like the ship is so big that they’re like, ‘Oh, we can’t do it.’ Now is the time to be like nimble and little, and I think that Fall Out Boy is kind of designed to do that. It’s just full steam ahead – embrace it.
Even though you’re at an arena level, you still need to be quick on your feet. A lot of bands can’t manage that.
PW: Yeah. I think that we’ve always had it and it will fit this era because that’s what you have to do. You can just put songs out, or you can do whatever – this is the time where people check out your stuff and you can do authentic things.
Being able to delay ‘M A N I A’, for example, is not something that a lot of bands in your position would necessarily be able to do
PW: Yeah, and I think that in the context of when it happened it was either we do this or we put out a record that we think is mediocre, and that’s the only alternative.
Have you started thinking about a follow-up yet, or are you very much in tour mode?
PW: We’re in tour mode but it’s so funny we’re just like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say’ We’re an unsigned band, our contract’s done. It’s like, ‘Wow, we can do whatever we want for the first time in 15 years’, which is exciting.
AH: “The sky’s the limit, that’s what Jesus said”, which is a Young Jeezy quote… I don’t know when Jesus said that, but yeah – the sky’s the limit.